What Cannot Be Taken

Here we are, 3000 miles in the middle of the sea; not even remotely trying to be part of the mainland culture most folks who were born in Hawaii simply call America. It is enough, this melange of beautiful people whose origins always make for good guessing games. We’re all in a state of becoming anyway, individually as well as collectively. If we’re eventually morphing into a more human race anyway, love is color blind, though not everyone recognizes this yet.

Imagine a world with no racism or divisiveness, simply because we collectively finally admit that Planet Earth would be eternally boring without diversity. Imagine such an abundance of shared love that we let one another be, not hoarding what we’ve got or trying to diminish another’s largesse of spirit.

When we lived on Moloka’i over 20 years ago, we were the object of racism because we were white or haole (literally translated as life without spirit). White people do indeed appear ghostly next to the rich complexion of most Pacific islanders. So we got to learn firsthand what it felt like for millions of other people throughout the world who have suffered because they looked different from the majority of society. What an invaluable experience. And though racism is still alive in Paradise, one may observe Aloha to by far be the prevalent sentiment. The breath of life to you! How utterly refreshing.

As U.S. citizens are looking at liberties previously taken for granted with a bit more scrutiny these days, I ponder freedom as it pertains to me. I do not choose the freedom to crush others I view as potential and distant threats, robbing them of their own sense of security and serenity. I choose instead to support the liberty we all secretly yearn for in our hearts, no matter what and where we’ve come from. I choose daily acts of kindness and a personal practice of mindfulness. Being aware of my words and thoughts, this sometimes difficult practice keeps me walking my talk as best I am able.

Victor Frankl suffered enormous physical and psychological pain as a result of Hitler’s concentration camps. He later became an eminent psychologist and prolific writer and offered, Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. 

What is the attitude you choose that supports your own way without robbing others of the same? How do you support this in daily living?

In Peace and with Aloha,

(bj image: 1993, Maunaloa, Moloka’i)



44 thoughts on “What Cannot Be Taken

  1. I think it’s important to remember that everything we see and experience on the surface is nothing more than a substitution; extensions of basic evolutionary strategies. The “evil stepmother”, sibling rivalry, and most other interpersonal interactions are found in nature- right now in your garden a number of these scenarios are playing out 🙂

    1. Agreed. In fact Chris and I were *just* having a similar conversation the other evening while watching a documentary on the origins of the Celts. While excavating ancient gravesites discovered in the Alpine region, one could not help but observe what is always observed in such cases – the warlike images engraved or embossed on such relics. And the class strata of the people who lived then – the slaves who died excavating tin or gold or whatever – and the elite who were the recipients of trinkets made from same. Which led us to yet another discussion – how possible it may or may not be for humans to ever transcend class and bias. BeCause in nature, one observes similar patterns, as you mention. BeCause there has to be some sort of population control for our species, same as there is for rabbits or tigers or oak trees. Some of us may not like it, we may yearn for a more humane world, but I’m not sure such a thing is meant to exist on *this* planet. Perhaps in another parallel dimension 😉 or elsewhere on the space/time continuum, but not here. It just isn’t sustainable. Still, the humanist in me, the artist in me, wishes, in the words of Rodney King, that we could all just get along – and revel in the diversity of our own species.

      Anyhow, thanks for weighing in, dear one, and wishing you a lovely awestruck day 😀 xo

      1. And/so, I guess what I’m asking here is how do we choose to be in the world, given its nature, but also given that humans have some say in how they participate and interact with one another, how or do we choose to ‘be in the world but not of the world;’ how do we choose to navigate through it, doing the least harm, if you will? Or is that important to a person? I mean, given Frankl’s quote. Aloha.

      2. Well, I think your sentiment is right in that we have to do everything we can to improve social dynamics. But to be able to do that we have to find the line between empathy and being overwhelmed by the pain empathy sometimes causes. It’s a delicate balance.

      3. Agreed, Pink. Looking at you, I can see in your eyes that you are a sensitive soul. I am as well, but after counseling people for nearly 30 years, I learned how to get some distance – I *had* to. Other people’s problems were eating me up. In the end, we all have our gifts and awarenesses, none better than another. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate hearing them. ❤

      4. Interesting exchange between you and Pink, Bela. But to keep it simple in answering your closing question, I offer your very own words: “doing the least harm”. I think harmlessness may be the highest good, if we leave aside the tricky concept of Love and all that may, or may not, connote. H ❤

      5. Yes, this is the best one can do, I think. As for love, there are so many variations on it, many definitions. I think as with anything, expectations are the devil’s bargain – “premeditated resentments,” is how I’ve heard them described. Having studied Jung pretty assiduously once upon a time, it really helped me to understand the major role of the archetypes in human behavior, if not consciousness. Could I ever love a Warrior, for example? Even that which exists within myself? Or respect a Martyr? And on it goes. I mean, how else to be supremely entertained while in body? 😉 !! Love to you on this beautiful day, dear Hariod! ❤

      6. “Premeditated resentments” — oh dear, that sounds chillingly like something that, uniquely, we human animals have the (oft-exercised) capacity to do. There’s sometimes a quite amusing side effect to others’ total miscalculation as to what we innately are, character-wise, and their discovery of their error, but in love that tends to end in tears — and not those of laughter. So maybe there’s a ‘love’ (little ‘l’), and a Love (big ‘L’), with only the latter sustaining the harmlessness throughout; only the latter being impersonal yet extendable to the person? I don’t know really — maybe I’m better off sticking to the little concept of contentedness. H ❤

      7. Yes, I’m guilty as charged, more with indignation than resentment, but am I just mincing words … it’s a lack of integrity, do what you say you’re going to do, honor your word, none of this cloak and dagger stuff, no time for it really, life is too short … But then I realize my own intent has been misinterpreted by others more than a few hundred times and though I strive to get clearer and clearer as time goes by, do I even know, myself (or know myself) and isn’t this a lifetime’s work, so how dare I interpret another’s intent without their full consent … on and on and on it goes. So yes, love small ‘l’ is fraught with confusion and expectations and the love capital ‘L’ is the universal kind, the unconditional kind I find easy to embrace for All of it, the miracle of it. I’m less a resenter than a prober of intent. And yes, your concept of contentedness is likely the best any of us can do to live in our skins without silly distractions like money and status that, in the end, can be taken from us and then what is left … Chris was saying just last night that such remainders are called ‘deathbed regrets.’ I don’t think I’ll have any, or at least that’s how I strive to live my life. Aloha, sweetie 😉 xo

      8. Have you read The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes? It’s very much about all this sort of stuff — how time and memory distort, misrepresent, lead us astray, lead us even into looking back at our lives and seeing how massively we’ve at times miscalculated and that those miscalculations have led to all manner of pernicious results, and how we’re blinded to those things that can seem quite obvious to those we’re closest to. I think it’s a little masterpiece (only 150 pages long, a novella), and for people like you and I who are into the mind and all that shenanigans, it’s wonderfully insightful, yet very, very subtle, not at all pedagogic, and quite beautifully written. It also covers some rather dark intra-familial stuff that might interest you given your work. H ❤

      9. No, I have not read this – I will definitely search it out. Nice it’s short too, I am always reading about 4 books in various places in the house, including audiobooks on the fly – no time in life to read all I want to. This one will get priority, thanks so much for the recommend! Big ❤

  2. It’s interesting how experiencing the very worst side of human behaviour often makes us so much more compassionate than we were. As though humans almost need the process, like having water taken away, to feel the cruel thirst, before appreciating and loving its existence. Which is also quite true, I once had to do without drinking water for four weeks – I was hydrated by a drip, and could only moisten my mouth with a damp sponge on a lolly stick. When I was finally allowed to drink a glass of water again, I cried at the joy of it. That joy has stayed with me.

    Great post Bela, you’re always so thought provoking. I hope your jewels arrive soon!

    – Esme waving upon the Cloud

    1. Hey, lovely! I awoke this morning thinking of said jewels 😉 So we must have been connected somehow in the ethers – or on the Cloud, as it may be 😉 Yes, what you say is true; if a primary reason we are on this earth in this particular environment (not just physical, but in all senses of that word) to experience compassion – not simply empathy (horse of a different color), we must ‘experience’ adversity in many forms. I mean, depending on the person, that may entail quite a bit of adversity(!). There are those who seem preturnaturally resistant to any sort of change in their basic demeanor and coping strategies, and there are some I even know personally who attempt through various means (yoga, Buddhism) to be compassionate, but when faced with an unexpected encounter, shut down the very qualities they espouse. So clearly this isn’t an easy road for many. So we continue thirsting for … (ellipsis for you only) whatever … until we develop an appreciation for the smaller droughts, so to speak. I do love your story, because it beautifully illustrates this very human conundrum. If we’re glutted with something – great example, let’s go with water again – if it flows freely from our taps, clean as can be – then we don’t appreciate it quite as much as if we’re visiting somewhere and have to buy it bottled. Or: I had a similar experience for years in Maine – during winters, my piped in water would freeze. I had to carry two 5-gal buckets of water up a steep hill from a 30′ well, which I had to hack the ice off of first before dunking the buckets. I then had to heat water up on the woodstove, pour it into a ‘camp shower’ hung in my shower stall and wash my long, thick hair and my body in 2 gallons of water. Had to carry dish water, too (I did go to a laundromat in town for laundry). Bath water for my eldest daughter. It was one way to live, but I chose it as a way to get myself in touch with ‘what was real.’ And I did this for a number of years before a) pipes to the well got insulated and b) I finally got a drilled well and had winter water. What we go without, be it water or love, we thrive on once it arrives. Then perhaps we take it for granted again, but over time and with repeated events, perhaps we sharpen our appreciation of things and people and this incredible life!

      Thanks for weighing in, Esme, I so appreciate your thoughts! Aloha ❤

  3. So well written Bela.. and great conversation! When we are not part of a culture or group, we can learn a lot about tolerance and respecting difference… or run away from it back to our comfort zone.

    1. Mahalo, Val. It’s why I’m a big fan of travel, no matter how cumbersome it seems anymore just getting through airports. Travel enlarges a person’s perspective, at least it’s what has worked well in our family and with close friends. When we travel, we always engage the local folk in dialogue, getting a sense of their lives. We eat local food, stay in local places if we can to support the local economy. It’s still hard being American – the most humble life here is still far better than most people in other parts of the world have access to. A tiny bit of money for us is a lot to many others. And I’m glad to have that awareness, frankly. Entitlement in any form riles me where not much else can. But that’s for another dialogue 😉 Blessings, Val. Glad to be back in touch vis a vis your own writing. ❤

  4. Such a well thought out and written blog post dear Bela.. I am with you all the way… May we start to share our hearts and stop judging others, but see the only way forward in this world is to share and co-operate… Its time to stop building walls and see we are All of us connected.. And that it matters not the colour of our skins or our backgrounds..
    I feel many now are waking up to moving forward to these aims…
    I want a future where by we are tolerant of each other and respectful not only of ourselves, but ALL life and Mother Nature..

    Sending Love my friend 💗💕💓💜💛💚

  5. While I was reading this profoundly sensitive post and the discussion that it ensued, Robert Frost’s Poem ‘Mending Wall’ came to my mind. He says :
    There where it is we do not need the wall:
    He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
    My apple trees will never get across
    And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
    With humorous detachment, very calmly, through metaphors, the poet shouted at those who create wedges on the basis of caste, color, creed and religion.
    So racism, rooted in the very origin of humanity has been rampant since times immemorial and has served no useful purpose except creating a big divide. Probably the Devil and the Angel have always tried to settle scores!
    I am on the side of the Angel and keep sending my love and peaceful thoughts.
    Thanks for highlighting the issue that concerns all of us dear Bela. Love and hugs. 🙂

    1. I’ve never heard this poem by Frost before – many thanks for sharing it. The idea of walls as pertain to the mobility of humanity make me crazy. I think if all those kinds of walls came down (and gosh, why not ask for the inner walls as well while I’m at it?!), all would level out. Not everybody wants to move to the US, anymore than everyone wants to move to England or Spain or wherever. It’s ludicrous. Freedom is so very important to me, but if You are not free, neither am I. I truly feel this way, and think I always have since I was a small child. Color is so important – the film Pleasantville leaps to mind here. So symbolic. So many see things in black or white, when in fact we live, as Ezra Bayda once said in one of our interviews, in the muddy middle.

      And you are correct of course, Balroop, that racism (and elitism) has likely existed for as long as humanity has inhabited the globe. “My dog’s better than your dog” – remember that commercial?! It typifies the one-up-manship that seems endemic to men, especially – important when facing a mammoth, but perhaps not so important these days with leaders facing global issues of monumental proportions. And as Pink noted earlier, these kinds of behaviors are likely ‘evolutionary strategies’ in place for a reason.

      Anyhow, dear Balroop, I must jump on my bicycle before the morning’s gone and my white skin burns to a crisp 😉 Here’s wishing you all the best, and sending you my love. ❤

      1. Oh Bela! That is a lovely poem and I have taught it to high school students who could barely understand his metaphors! Another very beautiful poem by Blake ‘The Little Black Boy’ also speaks about the so called ‘elitism.’ We may talk about global issues, which seem monumental but those who still live within such shackles don’t know the basic meaning of freedom!

      2. Yes, I’ll have to look it up – I do have Leaves of Grass in my bookshelves but it’s been years since I’ve read it – perhaps the poem’s in there right under my nose 😉 Will also check Blake’s piece, thanks for the recommend. And you are very astute – there are people in such dire circumstances that they cannot even conceptualize freedom. Nothing ‘should’ be taken for granted, but of course we all do this to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t have the answers, obviously, but I do know I have to live inside my own skin. We help others whenever we can and it’s an ongoing process. So many in need and so much corruption at the top. I hold no illusions it will ever change, but I’m glad to be who and where I am right now. Blessings, dear Balroop ❤

  6. ” Being aware of my words and thoughts, this sometimes difficult practice keeps me walking my talk as best I am able.”

    That sounds about right for me too.

  7. Great post Bela. Victor Frankl has always inspired me. Your words remind me of the movie Avatar, when she says “I see you” To see each other in this way is a gift that can change the world. 🙏🏻

    1. Ah, yes. Avatar. It’s validating to be seen, for sure. And it doesn’t take anything away from a person to give that kind of recognition to another. Blessings, Karen – thanks for your kind comment. ❤

  8. I cannot say I feel exactly as these children do or others considered different because of their race but I do have empathy for them. I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood in SO Cal (not like that now) where there were only three Latino families and my family where mom was very fair and dad of a darker skin (I often think his heritage of Spain and a Native American grandmother the sources). I grew up knowing and feeling different and in some instances early on in school was treated that way (although I couldn’t pinpoint they exact reasons why at the time). The saying I grew up most believing in is to “never judge a book by its’ cover” and we as a society should not although that is most times not the case. Thank you for the write.

    1. Aloha dear Renee: Being white in a predominately white neighborhood growing up, I didn’t experience ‘different’ as did you, though I did felt out of place in every situation, the proverbial round peg in a square hole. Perhaps that’s endemic to all children, I don’t know. Yet I did feel an immediate kinship with anyone people felt ‘differently’ about. At the same time, I strove mightily to be part of the in-crowd, more because I lacked an identity of my own. Of course I didn’t fit there either, perhaps because I gave up too easily on myself.

      Growing up Mormon, I learned that women were to be compliant and complicit and merge like good little Stepfords into the Patriarchy. And I tried that, as well. Yet each time, I was thrown back onto my heels feeling even more alone in the wide world. It was in that church, however, that we were taught not to judge, but how could an institution that constantly judged every action we took expect us Not to judge, in kind? It was too confusing. In the end, however, I broke free. And since that time, I’ve always sided with the underdog, to this day. I see and feel a purpose to all under Creation, no one better or worse than anyone else. Human nature is human nature, the world throughout.

      Peace, and hope your weekend will bring you some solid r&r! ❤

      1. I know how you feel about being a round peg in a square hole. The friends I made were those that didn’t fit in much as myself. I always had my nose in a book and did not much like groups in general so being ethnically diverse and then somewhat of a nerd or geek or whatever they are called these days…well, it made it difficult. But over the years I have learned to accept who I am and try not to judge. It can be hard at times when I see those with so much who do not share with others that have so little. But now I am careful to ‘pick my battles’ so to speak and take care of myself. Otherwise how can I be of help to anyone at all. You are a gifted writer and I continue to enjoy the read on your site. I am a bit late here. Weekend was good and hope yours was as well. 🙂

      2. Renee, you are too kind, thank you very much. And I’m totally with you on people who have so much yet share with others so little. Money is a strange bedfellow, and many of these people spend their entire lives focused on it. Like you, I am now picking my battles and trust karma to take care of the rest, ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Aloha, dear Renee. ❤

  9. I love your phrase “without robbing others of the same”….sometimes we think we are entitled to our choices even when it limits the choices of others. I am teaching my son how to tell if something is good or bad by looking within his heart. If we can each choose our actions based on how it stacks up against this one parameter, how good would life be for everyone.

    1. Yes. To my way of thinking, if you’re not free, neither am I. A good life for everyone is what I aspire to, though I harbor no illusions. Yet it lives within my heart and influences all of my interactions with others.

      What a sweet way to mother your son. Good for you! 🌝 Aloha. Good to see you here 😉

    1. Yes, Anna – I wish we were evolving into something more humane and sensible; into the collective awareness that we are all One People. Saying it won’t make it so, I realize. But I’ve been surprised many times in my life by the worst and the best in our species. Thus I remain both realistic as well as optimistic. I can’t deny that humans have sure made a mess of things, but I cannot see into the future either – is there some greater purpose to the madness we’ve witnessed? If not, in the end Planet Earth has been an amazing place of beauty for my eyes to behold.

      Thanks for pausing to comment, much appreciated. You’re welcome here anytime! ❤

  10. It would be great if the whole education system would change from competition based into compasion based learning and living. I believe that any act of kindness is important. This believe of more more more changing into share share share.

    1. That’s my hope as well, that we will (likely be forced to) accept a societal model of less consumerism and more sharing what we already have in abundance, including our loving hearts. Aloha. Thanks for your comments!

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